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Tonkunstler Orchestra

With its residencies at Musikverein Wien, the Festspielhaus St. Pölten and Grafenegg, the Tonkunstler Orchestra is among the major musical ambassadors for Austria.

With its residencies at the Musikverein Wien, Festspielhaus St. Pölten and in Grafenegg, the Tonkunstler Orchestra is one of Austria’s biggest and most important musical ambassadors. The focus of the orchestra’s artistic work is the traditional orchestral repertoire, ranging from the classical to the Romantic period through to the 20th century. At the same time, the Tonkunstler see the promotion of contemporary music as among their highest duties. Yutaka Sado, one of the most important Japanese conductors of our time, has been the orchestra’s Music Director since the 2015-16 season. To mark the opening of the 10th Grafenegg Festival in August 2016, his contract with the Tonkunstler was extended until summer 2022.

The Tonkunstler’s unique approach to programming is appreciated by musicians, audiences and the press alike. The inclusion of genres such as jazz and world music as part of the «Plugged-In» series, which has entered its eleventh year, keeps the orchestra in touch with the pulse of modern life. Performances of works by contemporary composers make the Tonkunstler a key player on the current music scene. Each year, a composer in residence collaborates with the orchestra for the Grafenegg Festival. So far these have included Brett Dean, HK Gruber, Krzysztof Penderecki, Jörg Widmann, Matthias Pintscher and Christian Jost. Composers such as Arvo Pärt, Kurt Schwertsik, Friedrich Cerha and Bernd Richard Deutsch have written commissioned works for the orchestra.

The Tonkunstler are the only Austrian symphony orchestra to boast three residencies. The traditional Sunday Afternoon concerts at the Musikverein Wien go back nearly 70 years and remain the Tonkunstler’s most successful concert cycle to date. The Festspielhaus St. Pölten was officially opened by the Tonkunstler on 1 March 1997. Since then, as resident orchestra, their opera, dance and educational projects, as well as an extensive range of concerts, have formed an integral part of the overall cultural repertoire in the Lower Austrian state capital.

In Grafenegg, the Tonkunstler have two acoustically outstanding venues at their disposal in their capacity as festival orchestra: the Auditorium and the Wolkenturm. The latter was officially opened by the Tonkunstler. Each year, the Midsummer Night’s Gala – broadcast on radio and TV in Austria as well as in several other European countries – opens the summer season in Grafenegg.

The political and social events and upheavals of the 20th century have left their mark on the orchestra’s history. The first concert by the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester took place in Musikverein Wien in October 1907, with 83 musicians performing. The impressive trio of conductors that night were Oskar Nedbal, a student of Dvořák, Bernhard Stavenhagen, a student of Franz Liszt, and Hans Pfitzner.

The Tonkunstler gave the first performance of Arnold Schönberg’s «Gurre-Lieder» under the direction of Franz Schreker in 1913. Wilhelm Furtwängler was principal conductor from 1919 to 1923. In the years that followed, the orchestra worked with such renowned conductors as Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Felix Weingartner, Hans Knappertsbusch and Hermann Abendroth.

The Tonkunstler have been the state symphony orchestra of Lower Austria since 1945. Year after year they have fulfilled the cultural, artistic and educational mandate this entails through their extensive range of concerts at various locations across the region, including the New Year’s concert series, through music education projects and their commitment to contemporary music in Lower Austria. In 2003 the Tonkunstler were the first Austrian orchestra to establish a department for music education. The «Tonspiele» («Sound Games») represent one of the most extensive music education programmes in Austria.

Former Music Directors of the Tonkunstler include such important figures of the music world as Walter Weller, Heinz Wallberg, Miltiades Caridis, Fabio Luisi and Kristjan Järvi. The orchestra’s guest conductors are another important source of artistic stimulus. In recent years the orchestra has welcomed many renowned conductors to its concerts, including Kent Nagano, Michail Jurowski, David Afkham, Andrej Boreyko, Jakob Hruša, Julia Jones, Gilbert Varga, Simone Young, François Leleux and Michal Nesterowicz. The Tonkunstler Orchestra is pleased to count musical directors of the calibre of Michael Schønwandt, Jun Märkl, Jeffrey Tate, Hugh Wolff, Giovanni Antonini, Krzysztof Urbanski, Dmitrij Kitajenko and John Storgårds among its friends and, in many cases, long-term collaborators.

Soloists who have collaborated with the orchestra include Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Angelika Kirchschlager, Lisa Batiashvili, Sol Gabetta, Cameron Carpenter and Michael Schade as well as pianists Rudolf Buchbinder, Fazıl Say, Lars Vogt, Kit Armstrong and Lang Lang. Violin virtuosos such as Christian Tetzlaff, Augustin Hadelich and Julia Fischer as well as oboist Albrecht Mayer, clarinettist Sabine Meyer and harpist Xavier de Maistre have performed with the Tonkunstler.

Recent tours have taken the Tonkunstler to Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and, repeatedly, to Japan. In May 2016 they completed a three-week tour of Japan led by Music Director Yutaka Sado, with fourteen concerts in the country’s most prestigious concert halls. Also under the direction of Yutaka Sado, the Tonkunstler played eight concerts in six British cities, including London, Manchester, Nottingham and Edinburgh, between 24 February and 5 March 2017. The next Japanese tour, in May 2018, is already being planned.

A wide range of CD recordings reflects the orchestra’s versatile artistic profile. Founded in 2016, the Tonkunstler’s own label releases up to four CDs per year as in-house studio productions and live recordings from the Wiener Musikverein, as well as performances with guest conductors. The Tonkunstler’s complete cycle of the Brahms symphonies, recorded with former Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada on the German label OehmsClassics in March 2015, was a résumé of their many years of collaboration. They had previously issued recordings of Felix Mendelssohn’s five symphonies as well as Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony and the «Symphonie fantastique» by Hector Berlioz, also conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada. With Kristjan Järvi, the Tonkunstler played Leonard Bernstein’s «Mass», Joseph Haydn’s Paris Symphonies and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in Gustav Mahler’s arrangement.

Also available are Mendelssohn’s «A Midsummer Night’s Dream», Schumann’s «Manfred», Franz Schmidt’s «The Book with Seven Seals», «Desert Music» by Steve Reich and «Zeitstimmung»/«Rough Music» by HK Gruber. 2012 saw the release of the CD «ZEIT:PUNKTE» with works commissioned from Austrian composers.

The orchestra are a regular radio fixture with the programme «Tonkünstler» on the last Thursday evening of every month. ORF Radio Niederösterreich offers a preview of the Tonkunstler’s upcoming musical highlights and information on their current projects. The book «Die Tonkünstler. Orchester-Geschichten aus Wien und Niederösterreich» («The Tonkunstler: Orchestral Stories from Vienna and Lower Austria») was published in 2007 to mark the orchestra’s 100th anniversary. Contributions from Otto Biba, Ernst Kobau, Philipp Stein, Markus Hennerfeind, Wilhelm Sinkovicz, Walter Weidringer and editor Rainer Lepuschitz cast light on aspects of Austrian orchestral history that had previously been undocumented or little known.